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Text Sets and the Art of Listening

Text Sets and the Art of Listening

Written by Kim Rensch
June 10, 2021

Mine has not been a typical teaching career. After eleven years of teaching eighth grade English/language arts, I became a hybrid middle school language arts and gifted and talented facilitator with full-time classroom release to support student learning through leading professional development, mentoring, co-teaching, and lending an extra set of hands in the classroom (think mentor-meets instructional coach-meets teacher leader). Because it is a facilitator’s duty to know as much about teaching and learning as possible, I have signed up for countless professional development opportunities. Five years into my facilitator career, I signed on for what was then the College-Ready Writers Program, or CRWP. It was during this training that I had a career-changing epiphany. 

Argumentation is an invitation.

Argumentation is an invitation!

This is a Job for Super Teacher

If there is something many folks do well in this country, it is out-yelling one another in a quest to have their opinions–whether backed by evidence or not–heard. While it seems to be too late for some adults to learn to be better, it might not be too late to steer our students away from this propensity and toward a brighter, less angry future. The key to this brave new world? Teaching students to listen.

It feels a little bit like superhero-saves-the-world-from-impending-doom stuff when teachers bravely invite students into a place of listening before they speak. 

Sit in the Parlor and Listen

Early on in CRWP (now C3WP) training, we learned an analogy for writing from resources: the Burkean Parlor. When working with students, I share this analogy of the Burkean Parlor, philosopher Kenneth Burke’s analogy for listening to the conversation before dipping one’s oar into the water and developing a claim with evidence for ourselves. I recount for my students Burke’s metaphorical late party guest who finds fellow guests already deep in conversation. The tardy partier takes a seat and considers the claims and evidence floating around the parlor before joining the discussion. The Burkean Parlor in our classroom is a text set, a print or digital collection of essays, articles, graphics, and other resources that will help students develop a well-supported argument. Students practice listening through reading and viewing. They learn to collect evidence from texts in order to develop reasons to support a claim instead of making a claim and then finding evidence to support it.

Text Sets: The 21st Century Parlor

Text sets are something of a microcosm of our world. Well, of the discussions and issues present in the world, anyway. When teachers curate text sets, we attempt to capture a written, visual, and sometimes verbal representation of the discussions taking place around substantive topics both in person and online in our local community, the nation, and the world. The beauty of text sets can be found in their flexibility and fluidity. Students can explore a mix of argumentative and informative texts, with alternatives such as videos, TedTalks, and infographics sprinkled in. Teachers can differentiate by reading level or type of text to give all students an entrance into a conversation.  Students can learn about bias from unbalanced text sets, and about researching for finding a balance. Students learn that claims do not have to be pro- or con-, but rather, nuanced. Text sets can become mentor texts or offer up evidence for students’ own argumentative writing. Most importantly, text sets create a classroom parlor where students listen before jumping in with claims of their own.

The beauty of joining the C3WP community is that there is a large body of text sets ready for the picking. A harried teacher long on tasks to do and short on time will find a wealth of resources stored in the C3WP website.

Teachers who wish to curate their own text set collections may find guidance for making their own text sets here.

In Conclusion

Text sets invite students to engage in a wide world of situations where listening is necessary first. And doesn’t the world need a lot more listeners?

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